Troll Care or: How I Learned to Appreciate the Other Side

We all have a troll or two among our Facebook “friends.”

My Troll is a smug, “mature” troll — a 40-something year old from an old gym whom I don’t even see face to face anymore, but more importantly from a generation with whom I would never have otherwise associated. Troll is nightmarishly conservative and never shy about commenting on my posts, stirring up my liberal friends who haven’t learned “don’t feed the trolls.” They all take the bait of his anti-Obama, anti-racial sensitivity, anti-political correctness, anti-welfare, anti-gender equality views.

He’s infuriating.

I should block him.

But that would mean Troll wins, right? And so I haven’t. And so I’ve resigned myself to just unfollowing his posts, which are exactly what you are picturing, especially in the restless air of the election season. I decided a while ago to not argue because the back-and-forth comments with him would ruin my day, not to mention the time I would waste checking my phone constantly for a response and then thumbing the screen furiously.

I also read a book called The Filter Bubble by Eli Pariser, which warns against the consequences of how we navigate the internet and create these little pockets around ourselves that only reinforce our views.

So I started just not responding or just even humoring him when he commented as though his view was valid.

Then Trump came around, and Troll didn’t support Trump, which made me pay a little more attention because I was surprised. Because all this time in my mind I had just made him into this convenient caricature of “the other side” so I wouldn’t have to pay attention to his arguments or recognize his view as valid.

So I could be comfortable in my filter bubble.

And the problem with that, I realized, is this stereotyping of the other side is part of what has pushed Trump supporters into their filter bubbles of extremism.

I still don’t agree with Troll, but I guard myself against adhering to a narrow-minded view of who he is and what his side is. He’s nuanced, just as I am. His politics aren’t simple, much like mine.

Liberals are notoriously smug and have a reputation among non-liberals for refusing to listen to arguments, for being overbearing and counterproductive in discussions, and for calling names or making personal attacks. I don’t have to be that way.

And now I’m able to see glimpses of the human side of Troll, the side that is uncomfortable or even scared of a changing society that seems to abandon the God he takes refuge in, allows gays to get married, and seems pitted against older white males like him and the privilege he hears so much of but is unconvinced he has in his middle-class struggle to raise two kids. I understand his reactivity and how that lens may color his views of gender equality, racial relations, crime and justice, and social programs.

His brand of white, conservative masculinity is slowly dying. That must be scary.

Poor little Troll.

So I keep him around because he’s a troll, but he’s my Troll. He humanizes the other side of politics for me, and thanks to him, I see how humor, wit, and compassion can keep us all grounded in disagreement.

etseng@unews.com

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